When Bing Crosby first crooned the lyrics, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, I wonder if he ever dreamed it would become a seasonal theme song for expats and their families who might sing, I’ll be home for Christmas but only in the expat’s dreams.
As I watched the news last week of thousands of stranded travelers across Europe due to blizzards, I wondered how many of them were humming this tune to themselves and hoping it would not be “if only in my dreams.” I personally knew of several students as well as parents who were caught up in the mess as they desperately tried to get home to be reunited with family for the holidays. In my mind, I could see the zig-zag patterns of movement as they each tried to reach the destination of “home” across the globe.
Home for the Holidays
Thinking back on my own years of raising children overseas, the holidays were easiest and perhaps the most fun when the children were young and we were already “home for the holidays” in our own expat world. We brought our traditions with us. As a family that celebrates Christmas, we decorated the tree with the ornaments collected from our travels, baked all our favorite cookies, sang carols in our living room, and invited our new friends and “adopted” family into our home to share the holidays with us. Many of our “adopted” family members did not share the religious aspect of the holiday with us, but we all still enjoyed the glow of goodwill and warmth that comes from a shared joy-filled experience.
After 7 years abroad we moved back to the U.S., and those were also happy holidays. I distinctly remember the feeling of moving back into our house, and the holes for the nails where we had always hung our garlands were still there. Touching that rough spot in the wood reassured me that we were home again, and that there was some continuity in our lives after all.
Home Keeps Moving
When the last of the kids started college, my husband and I moved overseas again. Though we were returning to a country where we had lived before, most of our children’s “TCK” friends had, as expected, moved on. This time our kids were going home to mom and dad’s house – not necessarily their own home, or to a place where they still had a significant stake. We did our best to find fun things to do and make it feel like home for everyone, but there were still times when they felt like visitors to an alien land. And in fact, they were.
Time passes and life changes. Now the kids are out of college, living their own lives in various parts of the United States. My husband and I have lived in two more countries in the last three years. Our parents are aging and not able to travel. It seems our family is flung from one end of the earth to another. Gathering everyone together for the holidays is something of a logistical nightmare – as well as expensive. Friends and family who don’t live this nomadic life wonder how we manage and how we stay together. But to other expat families, our family’s scenario is not unique and is being repeated with multiple variations around the world.
But somehow we do stay together. The beauty of family is that whether we are global nomads or stay in one place all our lives, we have a commitment to one another and to our family. That is the glue.
It’s not always easy, but somehow we make it work. The kids could not come to us overseas this year – so my husband and I went to them. Being overseas, we don’t have our own home in the U.S. to go home to for the holidays, so we rented a vacation home for our reunion. We made our list of things to do as soon as we got there and agreed on the things we wanted for the holiday: a tree, some gifts, the holiday foods we like. It’s much simpler and streamlined than in years past. The important thing is that we are together. Never mind that in a basement 10,000 miles away I have 2 Christmas trees, the ornaments collected from around the world, and enough Christmas decorations to decorate a Macy’s store. Things will stay in boxes this year, just like they did last. But at least we are together.
The holidays are full of sentimental songs about being “home for the holidays”. But for the internationally mobile family, being “home for the holidays” is not always about a place. It’s a state of mind. I’ve been living the expat life now for over 30 years, and I realize now more than ever that “home is wherever we are”.
I wish all of you and your families very happy holidays, and that you feel “at home” – wherever you are.